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Wednesday, 04 October 2017

University defends exclusion of social work degree student in homosexuality row

Written by Brian Farmer

Sheffield University bosses have defended a decision to exclude a devout Christian who they say posted "derogatory" comments about lesbians, gay men and bisexuals on a Facebook page from a social work degree course.

Felix Ngole, 39, of Barnsley, South Yorkshire, has launched a human rights fight in the High Court and a judge is overseeing a trial in London.

Mr Ngole, who now teaches religious education, says he was lawfully expressing a traditional Christian view and has complained that university bosses unfairly stopped him completing a postgraduate degree.

He says his rights to freedom of speech and thought, enshrined in the European Convention on Human Rights, have been breached.

But lawyers representing the university say he showed "no insight".

Lawyers said Mr Ngole had been studying for a professional qualification and say bosses had to consider his "fitness to practice".

They said the decision to remove him from the course was been fair and proportionate.

Deputy High Court judge Rowena Collins-Rice is analysing his claims at a High Court hearing in London.

The hearing began on Tuesday and is due to end on Wednesday.

In 2015, Mr Ngole had been taking part in an debate on a Facebook page about Kim Davis, a state official in the US state of Kentucky, who refused to register same-sex marriages, the judge heard.

"He argued that Mrs Davis's position is based on the Biblical view of same-sex marriage as a sin; when challenged, he provided quotations from the Bible supporting his view," barrister Paul Diamond, who represented Mr Ngole, told the judge in a written case outline.

"Mr Ngole expressed his views in a polite and temperate way."

He said Mr Ngole's comments had been made in a "private/social as opposed to professional".

"Mr Ngole's expression of his beliefs was a genuine contribution to an important public debate," added Mr Diamond.

"Mr Ngole is entitled to express his religious views; and did so in response to direct questions."

The judge heard that Mr Ngole was a "devout Christian" who had enrolled on a two-year MA Social Work degree course in September 2014.

Sheffield University bosses said the social work course was intended to give students a professional qualification and was monitored by the Health and Care Professions Council.

They said they therefore had a responsibility to consider students' "fitness to practice" and want his claims dismissed.

Barrister Sarah Hannett, who is representing the university, said the case was not about whether Mr Ngole was permitted to hold Christian beliefs.

"In September 2015, the university became aware that Mr Ngole had posted comments on a publicly accessible Facebook page that were derogatory of gay men and bisexuals," she said in a written outline of the university's case.

"The university instituted fitness to practice proceedings.

"On 3 February 2016 the Faculty Fitness to Practice Committee determined that Mr Ngole should be excluded from further study on a programme leading to a professional qualification but permitted registration for an alternative programme.

"The decision was upheld by (an) appeals committee."

She told the judge: "He failed to show any insight into why his view may be problematic."

Mr Ngole, who works as a supply teacher and comes from Cameroon, says the case had implications for others.

He is being backed by the Christian Legal Centre - which is part of the campaign group Christian Concern.

The hearing continues.

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